How to help military families in Chicago

Bittersweet. That’s how Molly Smith, a 37-year-old Wilmette native, describes this holiday season. Her husband, Lt. Col. Sam Smith, is deployed overseas, making him miss out on everything from family traditions to complicated Christmas morning LEGO conquests.

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“Sam loved finding crazy places to put Elijah, our Elf on the Shelf,” says Molly Smith, mom to three boys, 11, 8, and 5. “I’ll need to step up my game this year.”

Veronica Greeley’s husband, a staff sergeant in the Illinois National Guard, serves with the 108th Brigade and is currently deployed to the Middle East. He’ll miss Christmas, leaving Greeley, who lives in Elk Grove Village, to deal with two young children, 5 and 1, during the dreary winter months.

“Sometimes I crave adult conversation,”says Greeley.

Her sentiments are echoed by military spouses, who like Smith, admit “it’s not easy to ask for help.”

While it may be difficult for milspouses, as they call themselves, to reach out, it’s easy for people to help make the holidays a little less difficult for the 1 percent of Americans who serve in the military.

Collect gift cards

Military bases are generally set with enough supplies for troops, including baby wipes and lip balm. Instead, collect iTunes or Amazon gift cards and drop them off at a local reserve unit or National Guard base so the next group of deploying soldiers can stock their iPod or e-reader.

Share your space

Host a military spouse night at your business.

Share air miles

Donella Raible, a Marine spouse whose husband was killed in Afghanistan, had to travel from Arizona to Washington, D.C., for the dignified transfer of her husband’s body. Raible’s father used Hero Miles-frequent flier miles donated by travelers-so he could attend the ceremony in Dover with her.

Hold a collection drive

Scuttle the annual cookie exchange in favor of a drive for the Illinois USO. Take the cash you would use to bake a dozen buttery snickerdoodles, organize a get-together and donate the cash the group collects.

Lend a hand

Reservists and Guard are the police officers or accountants who balance both civilian and military life. When their unit is activated, they put their careers on hold and deploy. The spouses are left to assume the role of mom, dad, and yes, lead snow blower. Get a shovel brigade together and tackle a neighborhood military spouse’s driveway. Don’t ask, just shovel.

“The best thing you can do is also the simplest,”says Janice Laging, a family assistance center specialist who works at the Crestwood Armory and helps nearly 200 area military families whose service member will be deployed this holiday season.

“It is so overwhelmingly welcome when someone says thank you to a military spouse,” says Laging. “Family members serve too, just without the uniform.”

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